IN THE MEDIA: Transport Canada limits horsepower on Columbia River

By Steve Hubrecht, Columbia Valley Pioneer

The federal government has formally adopted a 20-horsepower limit for boats on the main stem of the Columbia River between Invermere and Donald (north of Golden), and around Fairmont Hot Springs.

The horsepower limit has been subject of discussion for almost two decades, and the issue was brought to renewed attention earlier this year, when the federal Ministry of Transport sought public input on the long-proposed idea. The regulation does not apply to Columbia Lake or Lake Windermere.

The regulation was published in The Canada Gazette, the government’s official newspaper, on Wednesday, October 19th.

“I think it’s a great day for the Columbia River and for the communities along it, with the 20-horsepower regulation now in effect,” Kootenay--Columbia MP Wayne Stetski told The Pioneer a few days later, adding the regulation has been a long time in the works, and since he had promised during the 2015 election campaign to do everything he could to get the regulation into effect, he’s quite happy to see that happen.

Mr. Stetski said written comments received by Transport Canada during a 30-day public consultation period earlier this year were “overwhelmingly in favour” of the 20-horsepower regulation.

“There was some misinformation that the regulation might also apply to Columbia Lake and Lake Windermere, but that was never the intent. That was never true,” he said.

In Transport Canada’s rationale for the regulations, The Gazette mentions that the Columbia River wetlands are one of only three such areas on the continent to be designated a Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention, is “vital habitat for migratory waterfowl”, and that “failure to regulate boating on the main channel and tributaries of the Columbia River will likely result in degradation of habitat, will likely have an impact on communities of nesting waterfowl and other impacts on wetland species, and will possibly result in the degradation of the (natural) levees that contribute to the integrity and protection of the Columbia wetland complex’s environment"...

The issue of horsepower restriction in the Columbia Wetlands and on the river’s main channel was first brought up in 1996, when the wetlands were designated a provincial wildlife management area. A provincial regulation limiting boats to 10-horsepower was declared in 1997, but was challenged in court by Invermere resident Dean Kupchanko on the grounds that the province has no jurisdiction to enact such legislation, with Mr. Kupchanko ultimately winning the case in the B.C. Court of Appeal in 2002.

Following this, local environmental group Wildsight and the provincial Ministry of Environment became co-applicants, lobbying the federal government to put a horsepower limit in place under the Canada Shipping Act.

Eventually in 2009, part of the proposed regulation, which disallowed any motorized vehicles in the wetlands alongside the main channel of the Columbia River, was adopted by Transport Canada.

“But the debate still went on about the main channel,” said Mr. Stetski, adding that “in the end, it was decided that a 20-horsepower limit would be a reasonable compromise, particularly on the Golden to Donald stretch where the river flows a little faster.”

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